15 Apr. 2021
The road to the 25th IHF Women’s World Championship continues this weekend with 10 crucial games in the Qualification Europe – Phase 2.
Six European teams are already qualified for Spain 2021, the first-ever IHF Women’s World Championship to feature 32 teams. Hosts Spain are joined by reigning world champions, the Netherlands, and the four top teams at the Women’s EHF EURO 2020: Norway, France, Croatia and Denmark.
In the Qualification Europe – Phase 1, 17 teams were divided into five groups, with the top two sides from each group proceeding to the next phase. The best ranked teams of the Women’s EHF EURO 2020 not qualified for Spain 2021 joined them in Qualification Europe – Phase 2.
The 20 teams still in the race for the last 10 European tickets to the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship learned their fate after the draw held at the EHF Office in Vienna on 22 March.
Reigning Olympic champions Russia eye their 14th IHF Women’s World Championship berth in the last 30 years against Turkey, who have never progressed to the final stage of the competition. Boasting several experienced players, Turkey will definitely be the underdog, as Russia start anew under coach Alexey Alexeev. Five players from DELO EHF FINAL4 participant CSKA are in the roster, while Japan 2019 All-star right back Anna Vyakhireva will miss the play-offs due to an injury.
The only side to have taken part in all 24 editions of the IHF Women’s World Championship, Romania, look to have their work cut out against North Macedonia. Adrian Vasile’s side failed to earn a berth for Tokyo 2020 after losing against Norway in March and will need to bounce back against a team who aim for their first berth at a World Championship since 2007. North Macedonia won their group in the Qualification – Phase 1, therefore can challenge Romania, especially with the second leg on home court.
A newly-minted Swedish side eye their fourth consecutive berth for the women’s flagship event, but will need flawless performances against Ukraine. The Ukrainian side have missed the last five editions of the World Championship and could prove a tough opponent, despite making a serious step back in the last decade. Yet, Sweden are favourites, especially after progressing to Tokyo 2020 in March, with a draw against Spain and a win against Argentina.
The only side to play both games on home court in this play-off, Hungary, are strong favourites against Italy, who have never progressed to the IHF Women’s World Championship. The Hungarian side retain the core of the team who qualified for the Olympic Games in March, in one of the most one-sided doubleheaders.
Both Serbia and Slovenia target another IHF Women’s World Championship appearance to extend their streak, being the prime pick against opponents who are still eyeing a surprising comeback in the final tournament. While Slovakia have not qualified since 1993, Iceland’s only presence in the tournament was at Brazil 2011, when they finished 12th. Serbia will miss influential centre back Andrea Lekic, who injured herself at the Women’s EHF EURO 2020, while Slovenia will rely on DELO EHF Champions League top scorer, right back Ana Gros.
A strong German side, brimming with young energy, are also big favourites against Portugal, who have never qualified for the World Championship, while the Czech Republic look for a comeback in the competition after their best-ever finish at Germany 2017, the eighth place.
It will be either Austria or Poland at the IHF Women’s World Championship, as Herbert Muller’s side target a comeback after a 12-year absence. With several players in the Women’s Bundesliga, Austria could prove troublesome with their free-flowing style, especially as Esbjerg’s playmaker, Sonja Frey, is back in the side after missing the last games due to illness. Yet, Poland’s coach, Norwegian Arne Senstad, is upbeat, despite leaving the Women’s EHF EURO after the group phase already, with three losses in three games.
IHF Women’s World Championship – Qualification Europe Phase 2
Turkey vs Russia (First leg: 16 April – Aksaray Merkez, Turkey / Second leg: 20 April – Moscow, Russia)
Czech Republic vs Switzerland (First leg: 17 April - Zubri, Czech Republic / Second leg: 21 April – Gümlingen, Switzerland)
Slovenia vs Iceland (First leg: 17 April – Ljubljana, Slovenia / Second leg: 21 April – Hafnarfjordur, Iceland)
Slovakia vs Serbia (First leg: 17 April – Sala, Slovakia / Second leg: 21 April – Belgrade, Serbia)
Ukraine vs Sweden (First leg: 17 April – Kiev, Ukraine / Second leg: 21 April – Lund, Sweden)
Austria vs Poland (First leg: 16 April – Maria Enzersdorf, Austria / Second leg: 20 April – Marki, Poland)
Hungary vs Italy (First leg: 16 April – Erd, Hungary / Second leg: 18 April – Erd, Hungary)
Romania vs North Macedonia (First leg: 17 April – Bucharest, Romania / Second leg: 21 April – Skopje, North Macedonia)
Portugal vs Germany (First leg: 17 April – Luso, Portugal / Second leg: 20 April – Hamm, Germany)
Montenegro vs Belarus (First leg: 16 April – Podgorica, Montenegro / Second leg: 20 April – Minsk, Belarus)
For more information, visit the European Handball Federation website.
Photo: Spain 2021